Love, Death & Rare Books

Delphinium. Mar. 2020. 350p. ISBN 9781883285852. $26.95. F
A bookseller’s son struggles toward both personal and professional fulfillment in this latest from Hellenga (emeritus, English, Knox Coll., The Confessions of Frances Godwin). Gabe Johnson, third-generation proprietor of Chas. Johnson & Son, Ltd., Antiquarian Booksellers, a Chicago institution, has inherited the bookshop after his father’s passing, but the rent is unmanageable. He takes to heart his father’s advice: “Live your life, don’t just read about it,” and relocates to a beach house in St. Anne, MI, and considers selling books online. Olivia, a former flame, visits seeking respite from a lymphoma diagnosis. Gabe won’t repeat the mistake of letting her get away this time, but it’s challenging to love her in the moment while confronting her eventual passing. Hellenga imbues his prose with a fervent bibliographic love. However, character arcs are subsumed by effusive descriptive bibliography and doctorate-level literary references. The assumed familiarity with the works the author mentions will overwhelm the uninitiated.
VERDICT A deep dive into the antiquarian book market, this is best suited for hard-core bibliophiles and literati.

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